Rabat – Since Ivanka Trump’s tweet congratulating Morocco on passing a law to facilitate equal rights in inheritance and her much-publicized visit to the kingdom as part of a “women’s empowerment” initiative, women’s rights in Morocco have been hitting headlines globally.
It cannot be denied that the country has made strides in recent years: Women now have the right to file for divorce and to pass nationality on to their children. Through a recently passed bill, women can more easily and fairly inherit land. There have been changes to the penal code and to the family code. And, while these changes have been called into question by activists and international analysts who see them as merely symbolic, unactionable words, the government maintains that progress is being made.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has made equal rights a priority in his speeches and in the mandate he gives to Morocco’s government. From the outside, Morocco looks like a country that is aiming to join the front runners in the equalities race.
However, the strides Morocco has made since the 2011 constitutional changes do not hold up in comparison with other countries on the international stage.
The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Report placed Morocco 137th out of 149 countries and a disappointing 141st out of 149 in terms of economic participation, meaning that every effort in this area is worth noting and celebrating to create more impetus in empowering women.
Ivanka Trump’s visit to the rural women of Morocco earlier this month and the White House’s well-meaning Women’s Global Prosperity and Development Initiative for the empowerment of women in “developing countries” are not the first agencies or individuals to intervene in Moroccan women’s uphill struggle towards equality.
However, while these token initiatives, interventions, and investments come with the best intentions, what needs to change in Morocco can only change from within.
Gender equality can only come from an overhaul in attitudes and culture from inside Morocco, and from efforts made in education and public institutions. These efforts must come from both genders.
‘Women have an important place in the Moroccan judiciary’
One such endeavor is already in action. Morocco’s judiciary, a body that actively promotes equal rights and opportunities for women in the workplace, hopes to engender a culture of non-discrimination within its ranks by encouraging women to reach leadership positions.
“With social changes over the past few years, women have an important place in the Moroccan judiciary,” Jemaa Ighuiouane from Ksar El Kebir’s Court of First Instance told Morocco World News.
However, she went on, “although women occupy important decision-making posts there is still a lot to do to address gender disparities and the challenges women face at work.”
“Women represent 50% of the Moroccan judiciary,” Abdessadeck Saaidi told Liberation, a Moroccan news outlet.
Saaidi is the president of the Friends of the Judiciary, a national union that supports public servants in the Moroccan justice sector. He went on to explain that most of the high level posts in the Ministry of Justice are “monopolized” by men. The union wants to change this.
On Friday, November 22, in Essaouira, the Friends of the Judiciary joined public servants from Essaouira’s Court of First Instance, and the American Association for Judges and Lawyers (AAJA) for a women’s empowerment training session.
The training session, organized by the Friends of the Judiciary and delivered by the AAJA, is part of a much larger initiative that aims to bring life for public servants within Morocco’s judiciary in line with international human rights laws and regulations.
A key part of this is fighting against all types of gender discrimination in the work place.
“Women still feel a certain level of discrimination at work when compared to their male counterparts,” Ighuiouane shared with MWN.
In her experience as a woman in the Moroccan judiciary, “women’s diplomas and qualifications are often ignored in favor of less qualified male candidates, particularly when talking about higher level jobs and responsibilities.”
For the Friends of the Judiciary, stamping out this type of discrimination is a key step towards meeting international human rights regulations and standards.
Said Handaji, the union’s advisor, told MWN that “the training session was a key part of the efforts to stamp out gender discrimination at work. We hope to be able to roll it out nationally after the success of the Essaouira session.”
“Women are a vital part of our work force and should be treated with the same respect as their male counterparts at every level,” added the advisor.
What are the next steps?
Gender discrimination in the work place is prohibited in Morocco under article 9 of the Work Code, adopted in 2003. According to the code, Moroccan employment law does not allow “any discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex or disability” concerning “salary, advancement, the granting of social benefits, disciplinary measures and dismissal.”
The journey to equal rights and equal pay is a long one. In countries like the UK and the US, where laws against gender discrimination in the work place have been in action for considerably longer than Morocco’s 2003 addition to its employment law, women and men are still struggling to wipe out a deeply ingrained culture of gender disparity and discrimination.
According to the UK government’s national statistics office: “The gender pay gap among full-time employees stands at 8.9%, little changed from 2018, and a decline of only 0.6 percentage points since 2012.” This means that women in full time employment in the UK are earning, on average, nearly 10% less than men.
The statistics office stipulates that the gender pay gap is calculated “as the difference between average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) of men and women as a proportion of average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) of men’s earnings.” The website adds that the percentage “is a measure across all jobs in the UK, not of the difference in pay between men and women for doing the same job.”
Morocco’s gender pay gap currently stands at 17%, according to 2017 statistics from a Ministry of Finance study. The study also showed that “the participation of Moroccan women in working life remains limited.”
Taking the UK’s 0.6% of progress in seven years as an example, it will be decades before Morocco closes up the gender pay gap and stamps out gender discrimination once and for all.
However, if such discrimination remains rife within the judiciary, the body responsible for enforcing and interpreting employment law in the kingdom, how can Morocco’s work force expect to see the code’s stipulations in action?
The first step must be wiping out gender based discrimination within the Ministry of Justice itself, and education and training is a key part of changing the ingrained culture of unconcious gender disparities.
The Friends of the Judiciary, through their initiatives and collaborations with the AAJA, are prioritizing education and training in an effort to develop a culture of equality within the judiciary. “The project begins with the development of educational programs,” Lahcen Bouhamou, a representative from the AAJA, told Liberation.
If these educational programs and training sessions can spread through Morocco’s judiciary and engender a culture of equality among those responsible for dispensing justice, Morocco’s employment law has a good chance of making that much-needed difference in the long term.